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Leos, or as they’re commonly known as Leopard geckos, make for quite an interesting beginner pet for reptile fanatics. Some of you have seen their alligator-like triangular heads, tiny-sized bodies, and ‘fat-as-a-finger’ tails, but one common question we get asked is: do leopard geckos have teeth?
Yes, leopard geckos have teeth. These native Afghanistan-India-Pakistan reptiles have 100 teeth at birth that are continuously replaced every 12-16 weeks (3-4 months). Animals with this unique characteristic are referred to as polyphyodont. Because of this, leopard geckos are often used as model organisms by researchers in genetic and regenerative medicine.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s learn more about leopard geckos teeth structure, teeth replacement, and whether or not leopard geckos bite!
Leopard Geckos’ Teeth Structure
Leopard geckos are born with tooth “families” that are arranged in rows in their mouths. They have small, conical teeth that line both the maxilla and premaxilla bones in the upper jaw while the dentary bones are in their lower jaws.
Most leopard geckos typically have up to a dozen teeth, give or take, lining the premaxilla bone while the rest of their teeth are variegated and can be found lining either the maxilla or dental bones. That said, the upper jaw usually has the greatest number of teeth compared to the lower jaw.
While most leopard geckos are born with a set of 100 teeth, there are some species that are only born with a little more than half of the amount. Unfortunately, it’s still not clear why this happens.
That said, the popular opinion of most research scientists is that this is because of a mutation in the leopard geckos’ genetic make-up. What’s more, some species of leopard geckos are born with up to 300 hundred teeth.
Teeth Replacement in Geckos
Like we said earlier, leopard geckos’ teeth are arranged in rows and within them, new teeth are constantly being produced before they’re hatched throughout their life.
These new generations of teeth grow from the successional lamina of their mouth and grow facing the tongue i.e. lingually as opposed to the current teeth. Each new tooth will continue to grow until it eventually replaces the ‘old’ tooth when it penetrates the surface of the tissue.
This is a cycle that takes anywhere between 3 to 4 months before repeating itself again. Some researchers speculate that the reason this happens is because of the lifespan of leopard geckos and the normal wear teeth causing them to be continually replaced.
While other researchers believe that the most reasonable explanation for this is due to stem cells being involved in the process but have yet to find conclusive evidence.
Why Do They Need Teeth?
However, what people see and what actually happens are two different things. One of the main reasons why they need teeth, like every other predator, they use them for hunting down their prey.
Thanks to how their teeth are positioned, Leopard geckos are perfectly designed to easily grip, slice, and kill their prey. Since they rely mainly on speed to hunt, their ability to quickly catch and chow down their prey before they have a chance to escape will determine if they can survive.
What’s more, leopard gecko’s teeth play a major role in helping them swallow their prey whole or in grinding down their food. That said, their teeth aren’t all about feeding.
They are powerful tools when it comes to protecting their territories, their prey, or mates. Like most animals, the competition for males in the mating season is very fierce and even these cute brightly colored leopard geckos will never hesitate to bear their fangs for the right to reproduce.
When they’re not using the teeth to hunt, feed or fight for females, they use them to help them shed off their skin. A leopard gecko will shed its skin as often as any other reptile and its teeth are essential in helping them finish the process much quicker.
It’s a stressful process for them and since a leopard gecko does it several times throughout the year, then it might as well get it over with as soon as possible using its teeth.
Do Leopard Geckos Bite? And Does It Hurt?
My general rule of thumb when it comes to owning a pet is to always be prepared to get hurt. Whether it’s a cat, dog, snake, etc. as long as they have teeth, be prepared to get bitten, scratched, or bruised unless it’s leopard gecko bites in which case you have nothing to worry about.
While there are several reasons why they may want to bite you, leopard gecko bites are nothing to be afraid of because their teeth aren’t that big and can’t break the skin and draw blood, and leopard geckos are not poisonous. However, this is limited to those Leos that are between 7 to 10 inches long.
That said, leopard gecko bites from those giant species might sting. These large species of leopard geckos and are classified into two main groups i.e. the super-giant and giant leopard geckos.
Naturally, the bigger the creature, the bigger the teeth so do be careful when handling geckos.
In any case, if you’re unlucky enough to get a leopard gecko bite and it draws blood, then be sure to disinfect the wound because like most reptiles, leopard geckos are carriers of salmonella and you could get infected.
That said, generally speaking, leopard geckos are usually docile. They’re known for being harmless and it’s one of the reasons why people keep them as pets since they’re children-safe.
So, do leopard geckos have teeth? Sure they do. Some come with fifty or slightly more teeth, others have a hundred while others have up to three hundred teeth. What’s more, because they’re polyphyodonts, leopard geckos are able to lose and regrow their teeth throughout their life.